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Stripped-down Mika

Mika, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Mika returns to Washington next week. His show at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue is sold out. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Mika
Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Sixth & I Synagogue
600 I St., N.W.
SOLD OUT
Sixthandi.org
Bit.ly/mikaofficial

Gay pop singer Mika was in Vancouver when we spoke by phone two weeks ago. He was in tour rehearsals for a stripped-down 17-date mini tour behind his latest album “The Origin of Love,” which dropped in October.

There’s good news and bad — he is coming to Washington but the show is sold out. He’s slated to be here Wednesday night for a show at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue. A review of his March 27 show at Los Angeles’s El Rey Theatre drew raves. A blogger (Neon Tommy) said he spent much of the evening at the piano and, “as great as his voice may sound in recordings, it is unbelievably smooth live” and “beyond impressive.”

WASHINGTON BLADE: What kind of instrumentation will you bring?

MIKA: There are three of us playing everything from piano to clarinet to sax to accordion to marimba to vibraphone — we have all these different instruments being played and we’re trying almost to make it sound classically influenced almost. We’ve done some scoring on a lot of this stuff just for this tour.

BLADE: How do you take highly produced dance pop and make it work with that kind of instrumentation?

MIKA: You take it back to the way it was written, to its most essential things. Things start out very basically, like maybe just piano and bass, and then build and build until you get the more dance stuff. But there’s loads of different ways to do it. It almost sounds more tribal on stage. It’s kind of like you’re getting people up and dancing and singing without all the bleeps and blowups.

BLADE: Is this where you are musically now or is it just a way to contrast it with the touring you did last fall?

MIKA: It definitely will affect the sound of my next record. We’re testing new songs and it’s already happening. The new stuff is a lot more sparse.

BLADE: The transition in your vocals from your natural range into falsetto is so seamless. With many singers it’s so much more pronounced. Was that just always the way it was or have you worked to develop and refine that?

MIKA: It’s really the result of growing up being trained by Russian classical musicians. It was like really serious professional singing. I can flip really effortlessly because I’ve been doing it since I was about 11. At the same time, my full voice range is actually quite limited. I’m technically a baritone, so pop just doesn’t work for that kind of voice and I had to develop a way to have more range. If you listen to Freddie Mercury or Prince, you see how we try to stretch it as far as you can and make it so it’s almost unnoticeable.

BLADE: Now that you’ve been out a while, what differences have you noticed career-wise?

MIKA: There’s been no change whatsoever in the people coming to the shows. It’s exactly the same demographics … I have always had this very crazy mix. Press wise, people talk about it, but it’s only one question that comes and goes because I’ve never lied or pretended to be anything I wasn’t. I refused to label myself. And the music hasn’t changed. Beyond that, I think there’s definitely a different sort of person now who comes up and talks to me on the street. That happens in a very different way. I think it’s made me slightly more approachable to some people.

BLADE: Are you in a relationship now?

MIKA: Yes I am but it’s hard. Beyond the traveling, this desire to constantly be creating … I think takes its toll on a relationship. … Relationships are about stability and that isn’t necessarily the most conducive thing to the creative process.

BLADE: You have such great hair — any tips?

MIKA: Wow, relationships to hair — that’s quite a change.

BLADE: Well, I’m trying to move fast.

MIKA: The hair thing, I don’t know. I hate washing it. I feel like you lose a bit of your brain or something every time you wash it.

BLADE: How often do you wash it?

MIKA: Maybe like once a week or something. It’s kind of skanky.

BLADE: How easily do the hooks come? Is there a large discard pile of songs that just aren’t hooky enough or can you make the hooks tighter as you write and tweak?

MIKA? With the last record I think I wrote 16 or 17 songs and I put out 15 so no, there’s not a lot of waste. It’s a very efficient writing process. I try to write like a child, to write as someone who’s allowing himself to be a child. I don’t really chase hooks, but I try to capture that feeling of being an 8- or 9-year-old girl or boy on a holiday. … I’m obsessed with the craft of thrill building.

04
Apr
2013

Magical music nights

Mika on stage in Washington Wednesday at the Sixth & I Synagogue. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Mika on stage in Washington Wednesday at the Sixth & I Synagogue. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

It was a great week for live music in Washington — Fleetwood Mac brought its “Tour 2013″ to the Verizon Center Tuesday night, out pop singer Mika brought his acoustic show to the Sixth & I Synagogue Wednesday night and on Friday, queer organist Cameron Carpenter made his Washington-area debut at the Strathmore in Bethesda. The proceedings were stellar all around — I’ll dissect chronologically.

Many, many years of following various pop and rocks have brought me to the realization that so many acts sort of “train” their audiences what to expect and the Mac is a perfect example. Its members — namesake rhythm section Mick Fleetwood and John McVie along with singer/songwriters Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham — talk in interviews as if they’re dutifully restricted from mixing things up too much because even with longtime songstress Christine McVie long gone (only one of her songs was performed — the chestnut “Don’t Stop”), they still have a truckload of ground they feel obligated to cover with songs like “Second Hand News,” “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way” and the list goes on and on.

Thankfully the Mac — touring a second consecutive time now without a new album out — is throwing in a few surprises. Nicks has revived the long-dormant “Tusk” track “Sisters of the Moon” for the first time since the “Mirage Tour” in the early ’80s. There’s also one all-new track (“Sad Angel”) Buckingham says is slated for an imminent EP and the ancient-but-never-released song “Without You,” a ballad that featured perhaps the loveliest Buckingham/Nicks harmonies of the evening.

Except for some very anti-Mac-like remix-type looping touches brought into “World Turning,” the arrangements were tried and true. Nobody could argue the Mac doesn’t know how to give the masses what they want. Which can be a little disappointing for the die hards who go hear them every time they tour. Or even the more casual fans who tend to be more musically adventurous. Though many of the suggestions thrown about are utterly absurd — Thomas Conner’s naive op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times last week is a great example — I could have gone for maybe 10 percent more adventure. A good starting point would have been “Soldier’s Angel,” the haunting duet Buckingham joined Nicks on for her brilliant 2011 album “In Your Dreams.”

With some acts — Madonna for one — you know you’re not going to hear every hit every tour. The Mac has never been like this, yet a few more unexpected moments would keep them a notch or two further away from the “cashing in/gravy train” bandwagon they’re clearly on. If you think for a second this is about the music and not the money, recall the arm twisting it took to get Nicks to agree to this. There was a well-publicized ballyhoo in 2012 when Fleetwood whined in a Playboy interview that he doubted the Mac would ever tour again when Nicks insisted on giving her solo album another year of touring. It was so wildly overstated that here they are on tour the very next year.  (Nicks said later three years — and she’s right — feels like a good amount of time to go between Mac tours.)

Fleetwood Mac on stage at the Verizon Center Tuesday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Fleetwood Mac on stage at the Verizon Center Tuesday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

While the band has been more about money than music for eons, I will say a few quick things: one, the music at Tuesday night’s show was scary good. Nicks, though she doesn’t scream and growl as she used to, has developed into a very solid singer. There wasn’t one off-pitch sound that came from her mouth the whole night. And Buckingham’s guitar work was as great as it has ever been. If there’s one upside to the lack of Mac recordings in the last 10 years or so, it’s that Buckingham’s solo career has soared off in the other direction with a trio of masterfully conceived and executed solo albums (2006′s “Under the Skin,” 2008′s “Gift of Screws” and 2011′s “Seeds We Sow”).

Given the way the Internet has decimated album sales — especially new work from veteran acts — one can hardly argue with their “let’s just tour” approach. Still nobody seemed to notice the irony of the situation when Buckingham spoke about not wanting to run something that worked (“Rumours”) into the ground when it came time to make “Tusk.” Sadly now the band is doing almost exactly that — touring clearly works (I’ve never seen the Verizon Center so packed and on a weeknight no less) so why be bothered with doing a new album? While the night was great fun, the reality that the Mac seems highly uninterested in doing much beyond trudging out the staples — Nicks is the chief foot dragger — lent the proceedings a bittersweet air.

And why can’t we all just agree to let Christine McVie do what she wants? Legions of the Mac faithful seem to be holding out hope that she’ll one day rejoin them for one last outing. While yeah, that would be cool for “old time’s sake” (McVie said recently she would consider joining them on stage in London if they ask her later this year), they’ve already done that. Why do we need another “The Dance”-type outing (the name of a ’97 reunion tour with the classic lineup), especially if McVie’s heart is not in it? I would feel differently if they’d never done “The Dance,” but since they have, it’s time for everybody to move on.

Mika’s show the next night was an interesting study in contrasts — from a veteran band reliving its glory days to a young singer (he’s 29) only on his third album playing a small, atmosphere-heavy synagogue (it’s actually a great concert spot — much more music-friendly than the much-lauded 9:30 Club) with a throng of young fans at fever-pitch excitement throughout the evening. Touring behind his near-masterpiece album of last fall “Origin of Love,” the obscenely talented popster poured his passionately creamy falsetto-hued vocals and drivingly percussive piano playing through a nearly two-hour set that was the furthest thing from phoned in you could imagine.

Working with a tight two-man band — players who seemed to grab any instrument of the dozens on stage they could quickly get their hands on — Mika radically reinvented several songs from their studio versions (a ballad version of dance cut “Stardust” from the new album was perhaps the most radical), led several all-out audience sing-alongs (and the crowd knew every word) on “Grace Kelly,” “Love Today” and “Celebrate” among others, and even stepped away from the mic for nearly two full numbers just to savor the acoustics — which are stellar — of the venue. All were show-stopping in the best way.

Mika truly has it all — killer voice, great songwriter, solid musical chops and just-left-enough-of-center looks and charm to never be mistaken for a “Bachelor” contestant. He’s sort of our queer Justin Timberlake — with a much better current album out too, by the way.

Switching gears radically was Cameron Carpenter’s organ recital Friday night which, despite a few logistical head scratchers (more on that in a sec), was a musical accomplishment of Herculean, truly other-worldly proportions. Watching and hearing him play is much akin to the scene in the classic “Outer Limits”  episode (“The Sixth Finger”) in which a scientist figures out a way to push evolution ahead a million years and suddenly the protagonist can play Bach he just picked up. Carpenter is almost in that league, having been something of a child prodigy who claims to have mastered “The Well-Tempered Clavier” in adolescence.

Cameron Carpenter at the Strathmore Friday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Cameron Carpenter at the Strathmore Friday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

The first oddity was why Carpenter — with all the amazing pipe organs in Washington — was at the organ-less Strathmore at all. Playing an electronic Rodgers three manual brought in just for the occasion, Carpenter got more sonic contrast out of the thing than probably anybody else could have, but from the massive instrument at the National Cathedral, the new pipe organ at the Kennedy Center (where he’s rumored to be playing next year sometime) or even the glorious five-manual behemoth at National City Christian Church in Thomas Circle (which could just about have housed the somewhat disappointing turnout — of the Strathmore’s three balconies, only the lowest one was about half-full; the upper two sat empty), it seemed just plain dumb to have him there. It could be a harbinger of things to come — Carpenter’s most insistent recurring theme is his endless frustration at having to adapt to a different organ for each town he plays. Let’s hope whatever touring instrument he ends up with — he says it’s almost finished — has a little more sonic heft than the Rodgers. Which sounded OK — I’m not trashing it altogether. One could clearly tell, though, that it was a sound coming from speakers, not pipes.

That said, what Carpenter did with it was beyond staggering. His musical instincts — as sharp and deadly as Wolverine’s knife claws — are in a league of their own among organists, at least to my knowledge. He plays with a pianistic-like virtuosity that’s stunning to watch (a screen above him amplified his finger work). Often playing two manuals simultaneously with one hand, leap-frogging between the choir, great and swell like an Olympic sprinter and displaying the most nimble pedal work I’ve ever seen, Carpenter truly is a talent for the ages. Granted, the Rodgers had a minimal number of stops it appeared — it looked like a child’s toy compared to, say, the National City console — yet Carpenter changed registrations like most people blink. One five-minute improvisation he played featured more than 40 registration changes. That amount of tone painting just through stop changes was impressive in and of itself, forget about the actual note playing.

His wildly eclectic 100-odd minute show (played entirely from memory) featured everything from Bach works written for organ, transcribed for piano, then adapted back to organ (by Carpenter), two Liszt Transcendental Etudes he said were “nearly impossible to play,” a wickedly playful transcription of Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture and a playful encore/fantasia on — of all things — “Shortnin’ Bread,” a whimsical-but-no-less-dramatic way to end the evening. The highlights for me were a moody and languid — yet endlessly colorful — transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s piano work “Evocacion” (the first movement from “Iberia”) and a fantastically creative Marcel Dupre arrangement of a French Noel that Carpenter tackled in a deliciously subversive way, nearly matching the macabre wit Dupre brought to it originally.

Though nearly as night and day as one could fathom, all three shows were utterly magical and evenings I will never forget.

Fleetwood Mac’s set:

1. Second Hand News

2. The Chain

3. Dreams

4. Sad Angel

5. Rhiannon

6. Not That Funny

7. Tusk

8. Sisters of the Moon

9. Sara

10. Big Love

11. Landslide

12. Never Going Back Again

13. Without You

14. Gypsy

15. Eyes of the World

16. Gold Dust

17. So Afraid

18. Stand Back

19. Go Your Own Way

ENCORE

20. World Turning

21. Don’t Stop

ENCORE 2

22. Silver Springs

23. Say Goodbye

Mika’s set:

1. Grace Kelly

2. Toy Boy

3. Lollipop

4. Blue Eyes

5. Billy Brown

6. Popular

7. Love You When I’m Drunk

8. Underwater

9. Stuck in the Middle

10. Emily

11. Big Girls

12. Origin of Love

13. Happy Ending

14. Lola

15. Relax, Take it Easy

16. Stardust

17. Celebrate

18. Love Today

19. Over My Shoulder

Cameron Carpenter’s set:

1. Bach — Prelude 1 from “Well Tempered Clavier”/Fugue No. 15 in G Major

2. Bach/Busoni — Cello Suite No. 1

3. Bach — Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor

4. Albeniz — Evocacion from Iberia

5. Dupre — Variations on a Noel

6. Liszt — Feux Follets

7. Liszt — La Campanella

INTERMISSION

8. Bernstein — Candide Overture

9. Ives — The Alcotts from Concord Sonata

10. Improv

11. Improv

ENCORE

12. Chopin — Minute Waltz

13. Shortnin’ Bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15
Apr
2013

Concerts: Strike up the band!

Chely Wright, Catie Curtis, gay news, Washington Blade

Lesbian singer/songwriters Chely Wright and Catie Curtis (left) are both expected to return to the region this spring. Curtis is at Wolf Trap. Wright plays a special show in Rehoboth Beach. (Photo courtesy Wolf Trap and Vanguard Records)

From hip-hop to Broadway, this season of performers brings such a diverse set of music that there’s room for all kinds of audience members.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington puts on a all-male version of “Xanadu” at Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., NW) on March 15-16 at 8 p.m. with a matinee performance March 17 at 3 p.m. The show is based on the 1980 romantic film starring Olivia Newton-John. The main character Kira, a Greek muse, is sent to California with a mission: to inspire men. She inspires the creative genius of the film to create the world’s first roller disco! Tickets are $20-$55. For more information, visit gmcw.org.

The Washington Women in Jazz Festival kicks off on March 20 with Kimberly Thompson performing at 8 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St., NE). Tickets for this specific event are $25. The following evening on March 21 at 5:30 p.m. is the vocal showcase with Christie Dashiell and Jessica Boykin-Settles at Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington). This event is free. The festival continues until March 27, including events such as the Young Arts Contest and Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra. The festival concludes with jazz legend Geri Allen on the piano at 8 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St., NE). Tickets are $35 for the finale. For a full a schedule and ticket prices for specific events, visit washingtonwomeninjazz.com.

Transgender performer Mykki Blanco comes to Comet Ping Pong (5037 Connecticut Ave., NW) along with Dope Body on March 27 at 9 p.m. This outgoing alter-ego to Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., is a New York-based poet and hip-hop musician. Dope Body is a noise rock band from Baltimore that formed in 2008. Their most recent album “Natural History” saw a change in sound with more big melodic hooks. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit cometpingpong.com.

Singer and lesbian activist Catie Curtis comes to The Barns at Wolf Trap (1645 Trap Rd., Vienna) on March 28 at 8 p.m. Curtis brings her stories about tackling personal and social justice themes that any audience member can relate to. Tickets are $22. For more information, visit wolftrap.org.

Country singer Chely Wright is the headliner for Rehoboth’s “Women’s Fest 2013” on April 12 at 8:45 p.m. at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center (229 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.). Wright became the first major country singer to come out as gay in May 2010, citing her concerns about bullying of gays as well as being true to herself. Tickets are $25. There are a limited amount of front table seats that are $100. For more information, visit camprehoboth.com.

Several big-name pop and rock acts are slated to play the region. Look for Pink at the Verizon Center on March 14, “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter at the Kennedy Center on March 23, Fleetwood Mac (which has a large gay following thanks to singer Stevie Nicks) at the Verizon Center on April 9, gay popster Mika at the Sixth and I Synagogue April 10, Motown/soul diva Gladys Knight at the Strathmore April 25-26, comedian/filmmaker and John Waters at the Howard on May 15.

In classical music, look for bi organist Cameron Carpenter at the Strathmore on April 12. He’s expected to bring a predictably unpredictable set and has been playing self-composed programmatic suites in recent shows. And under the gay leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra plays Mahler’s 9th Symphony at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on March 23.

The Rock Creek Singers and Potomac Fever, the Gay Men’s Chorus’ two vocal ensembles, perform together on April 20 at 5 and 8 p.m. at Church of the Epiphany (1317 G St., NW). The evening includes a dazzling performance from these two groups sharing the stage singing in a cappella and tight harmonies, spanning music styles from Broadway, pop and classical. Tickets are $35. For more information, visit gmcw.org.

The same evening, gay singer, pianist and music revivalist Michael Feinstein performs at the Music Center at the Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda). Tickets are $40 -$105. For more information, visit Strathmore.org.

The Cliks, with transgender lead singer Lucas Silveira, come to DC9 (1940 9th St., NW) on May 5, after their new album “Black Tie Elevator” is released. According to their website, the time of the event will be announced and it is a 21 or older event. For more information, visi thecliks.com.

Special Agent Galatica has monthly and twice-monthly engagements at a host of local venues — Black Fox Lounge, Nellie’s and Freddie’s. All details are at pinkhairedone.com.

28
Feb
2013

Year in review: Better late than never: Anderson Cooper comes out

Anderson Cooper, CNN, gay news, Washington Blade

Anderson Cooper (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A number of celebrities, politicians and other officials came out during 2012.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper publicly acknowledged being gay for the first time in a statement gay commentator Andrew Sullivan posted to his blog on July 2. Sam Champion, weather anchor for “Good Morning America,” announced on-air in October that he was engaged to his long-time partner, photographer Rubem Robierb. (The couple attended a Freedom to Marry fundraiser in Miami Beach, Fla., a few days later.)

Gay singer Ricky Martin was among those who applauded Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz after he came out on Oct. 3. R&B singer Frank Ocean in July acknowledged his homosexuality, while Jamaican singer Diana King came out on her Facebook page in June. British singer Mika told Instinct Magazine in August he is gay.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Fleck, a Republican who attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., earlier this month came out during an interview with a local newspaper. Stefany Hoyer Hemmer, daughter of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.,) came out as a lesbian during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade in June.

“My father, as you know, just came out in support of gay marriage,” she said. “The momentum in Maryland right now for the adoption of the gay marriage law is fast-paced. I’m 43 years of age, and I’ve been gay my whole life and I just figured this is a good time to lend my name to the cause.”

DC Comics in June announced the Green Lantern is gay as part of its effort to reinvigorate the “Earth 2” series.

27
Dec
2012